On December 15, 2019, when I went to the library, little did I know that it would be the most unfortunate day of my life.
It was also the most unfortunate day for many students at Jamia Millia Islamia, when the police stormed inside the campus and lathi-charged those who were peacefully protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act – a law which is textually and contextually discriminatory in nature and violates the basic principals of secularism.
The personal trauma that I underwent and my shaken belief in the police has led me to write my experience as a victim of police brutality and as a detainee on the night of December 15 and 16.
On that cold December night, the police mercilessly attacked students in the library, department buildings, hostels and in the open. They lobbed tear gas shells, which not only left many of us injured but also gave us trauma for life.
I am a civil servant aspirant and spend most of my time sitting in my university’s library. I could never have imagined that a system I wish to be a part – and was proud of – would fracture both my hands and shake my trust in it all in one day.
On December 15, I went to the library a bit early because it was a Sunday. I was there from 9 am till late in the evening when the police broke in and dragged us off to the New Friends Colony’s police station.
Around 5.45 pm, I heard the sound of tear gas shells being fired within the campus and outside. At that time, there were 10-15 students in the reading hall at the first floor of the Ibn-e-Sina old library building. Soon after, the noise got louder and we got really scared.
While I knew that the police might enter the campus to disperse the protestors, I felt assured that they would never enter the library. Nevertheless, we decided to shut the door from inside and sit there quietly and nervously.
Around 6 pm, we heard someone trying to break through the doors, but we didn’t know if they were students or the police. The noise got louder and we were too scared to open it.
Suddenly, I heard a sound similar to a tear gas shell. The door was then forcefully broken. The Delhi police stormed inside armed with riot gear and lathis. They started beating us up without warning, without listening to a word – even though we kept saying that we weren’t part of the protests.
They kept hitting us indiscriminately. They attacked us with lathis to maim and not with the intent to disperse while yelling worst kinds of communal slurs.
As we ran outside to escape, we saw hundreds of policemen beating other students and forcefully escorting them out of the campus.
I was hit on my head in the library and I was in unbearable pain. Suddenly, a policeman from behind hit me again. While I was trying to protect my head, he hit my hands really hard with a lathi, fracturing my bones. In that unbearable pain on that cold December evening, I – along with other students – were paraded out and taken to New Friends Colony police station.
Around 7 pm, a PCR van approached us. I limped towards it and sat by myself.
I thought the van would take us to the Holy Family hospital, which is hardly 400 metres away from the university. But to my utter surprise, the van took us to the police station where I, along with others, were forced to sit on the ground in a room behind SHO’s office.
I wasn’t able to sit on the floor, so I lied down. I was crying in severe pain. Almost two hours later, a paramedical person came inside who sprayed something on my hands, which failed to relieve the pain.
The policemen didn’t give us water to drink and took away our phones. They didn’t let us call home even after repeated requests. They kept saying, “Pata hai, saale tum logo ne bus jalaayi hai, me tod fod ki hai (we know you all have burnt the bus and created a ruckus at NFC).”
When we asked if we could meet the SHO, they said, “Wo milenge jab unhe milna hoga. Abhi nahi milenge (He will meet you whenever he has to. He can’t meet you now).”
Around 12.30 am, senior advocate Colin Gonsalves entered the room – the first person to reach us – and a woman started taking down our names. Gonsalves told the police that he has the right to speak to his clients in private, but the policemen didn’t allow it and said that the SHO had asked them to leave.
We somehow managed to give our names, numbers and addresses to the advocate so that he could bail us out. The next day, the police let us out after taking down our names. Since both my hands were fractured, the university’s proctorial team did my paper work – I came to know this later.
This incident has made me question everything I have always read about how state officials are meant to behave.
Can officials use indiscriminate force against students like me, who were never a part of the protest? Also, isn’t peaceful protest a fundamental right of every citizen? Can officials use religious slurs against Muslims without showing even an iota of professionalism, forget the standard operating procedures?
Jamia Millia Islamia is a central university. Aren’t the police supposed to seek approval of the university authorities before entering?
I am really grateful to many known and unknown people, like my classmate Chand Khan, who helped me overcome my mental trauma; my teacher Dr Hem Broker, who inspired me to write about my experience; senior advocate Colin Gonsalves and advocate Nabila Hasan, who helped me throughout – and are still helping me overcome the trauma.
I just hope that the police doesn’t unleash this kind of brutality in any other campus or upon any student, and action is taken against those responsible for causing such agony and academic loss for hundreds of students – beginning with registering of a FIR, as honest and accountable police of a secular democracy ought to do.
Mustafa is pursuing masters in social exclusion and inclusive policy at Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi.
Featured image credit: PTI